I expected to be flooded with many complicated emotions when I found out I was going to become a father, but instead, all I felt was this: naming this child is the most important writing assignment of my life. He will be like a column that not only sticks around forever but can also complain about itself.
Most people don't share the names they're thinking of with friends, family and readers of weekly newsmagazines because they don't want to be talked out of their choice or have it name-napped. Those people are stupid. Having written many things that people hate, I decided to thoroughly focus-group my work--especially since my wife Cassandra rejected all my first suggestions: Whiskey, Danger, Genghis and Ribo. She also rejected all my names that were Spanish (Pablo, Alejandro), Asian (Hideki, Attila) or Hockey (Teemu, Jaromir, Zigmund), arguing that they "didn't go with Stein," much like how everything I want to buy "doesn't go with the house."
Luckily, there are many websites that help fuel more of these fights. We started at Babble.com where a collaborative-filtering function called Nymbler asked for a few favorite names and then spit out others enjoyed by people with the same preferences. This gave me results approved by my demographic, which we learned by the site's suggestions of Axel, Jett, Laszlo and Zed is that of pretentious, self-important yuppie hipsters.
As a pretentious, self-important yuppie hipster, I thought it was a great idea to pay a baby-name consultant, an occupation created just a year ago. For $35, I got 12 name suggestions from Jennifer Moss at BabyNames.com that included four names we were already considering: Elijah, Jude, Dashiell and Edison, which is particularly weird because we totally made up the name Edison, since it's the town I'm from in New Jersey. My main concern with these is that they'll all get my son beaten up. But Moss said, "When we've done our surveys, people say, 'I was teased about being Anna.' Kids will tease about anything if they don't like you. Don't worry about it. Unless it rhymes with a body part." Which, sadly, ruled out my favorite choice: Smesticles Stein.
The best advice I got was from Eric Reyes and Whitney Walker, co-authors of The Perfect Baby Name and, for $75, name consultants. They ignore subjective reasoning like name meanings and associations and focus solely on sounds. Walker told me that the strong s or t in my last name would sound nice repeated in the first name, as would the long-i sound. Whatever I choose, she suggested that I Google the name before settling on it. "Just to make sure it's not a porn star or something," she said.
Better yet, I went on Facebook and sent messages to an Ezra Stein, a Levi Stein, two Solomon Steins and a Sigmund Stern. (That's as close as I could get.) It turns out, to my relief, that every human being likes his own name. But Solomon scared me about the nickname Sol, whereas Sigmund--who, of course, writes for the Onion--won me over with Sig and Ziggy. I also sent messages to guys with really unusual first names that we were considering, though I knew all I needed to about those names when I discovered I had mutual friends with all three Zeds and all five Jetts on Facebook. Say what you want about pretentious, self-important yuppie hipsters: they do Facebook-message you back very quickly.
Feeling confident, I sent a mass e-mail to family and friends instructing them to vote yes or no on each one without any comment, a request they all ignored. All of them also thought it was clever to suggest their own first names. Also, I learned that when my mom receives an e-mail that upsets her, she immediately calls. "The only name I like is Jeff if you spell it with two f's instead of t's," she said. "You cannot do this to my grandson. I'm just trying to protect this poor unborn baby. I have no other reason." Having kids is already proving to be just as fulfilling a method of getting back at my parents as I had hoped.
The winner of our focus group was Oliver, the fake choice we put on the list to see if people would just pick a superpopular name. Griffin came in second, followed by Ezra and then Isaac and Levi. Judah and Edison were right behind, with Zed coming in a shocking ninth out of 20, thus proving I need new friends, because ours are either idiots or trying to sabotage me.
But Cassandra is stuck on the low-rated Laszlo Stein, who was a beloved ear doctor who I fear might be hard to out-Google. So if you want to prevent Laszlo Stein--or even will his very existence into being--I urge you to go to vote on my baby name. Remember, only you can prevent Gunther Stein.